The Witch Movie Review (Spoiler Free)
A hellish New England folktale that knows how to depict a story, build up tension, and terrify its audience. This is a horror movie done right!
Genre: Drama / Horror / Mystery
Director: Robert Eggers
Cast: Anya Taylor-Joy, Ralph Ineson, Kate Dickie, Harvey Scrimshaw, Lucas Dawson, Ellie Grainger, Julian Richings, Sarah Stephens & Bathsheba Garnett.
Run Time: 92 min.
US Release: 19 February 2016
UK Release: 11 March 2016
German Release: 19 May 2016
The Witch is Robert Egger’s directorial debut and an amazing as well as a truly disturbing one at that! I am a big horror fan and a real sucker for anything that might be different, such as inducing psychological fear (Kubrick's The Shining is one of my favourite horror flicks), instead of using simple jump scares and I therefore truly appreciated how unique this terrifying tale was since the trailer doesn’t do it any justice. The Witch is much more than what the trailer might suggest it is!
The movie revolves around a 17th-century family from New England who, after being banished from a colonial settlement for practising their religion to the extreme, move out into the wilderness where they start experiencing unnatural events as their distrust of one another begins to tear them apart.
I need to address this first; if you are expecting a typical horror movie that throws a lot of scare jumps in your face and has a blatantly obvious plot you will be disappointed because this horror tale is more than just a cheap trick to frighten the audience. The Witch makes use of human’s deepest psychological fears and thus succeeds in making the viewer feel uneasy. It might be a slow burner, but it surely has no scene that was dull or boring, as tension is consistently being wound. Director Eggers also plays with the audience, who are repeatedly wondering throughout the first half of the plot which of the characters might be the protagonist, since the focus keeps jumping back and forth between the different family members.
The plot has an intriguing but at the same time disturbing story to tell, and the fact that it feels as if it were something we shouldn’t be seeing makes it that more interesting. In the film, a family that gets banished into the woods has to confront a supernatural entity, but that story aspect is just the beautifully painted facade that covers the real message underneath: the effects that isolation can have on lonely souls and their psyche, and how it can make them turn against each other. It is also an astounding accurate depiction of what life could have been for a devout Christian family from the 1630s that lived in the wilderness of New England and includes the old-fashioned English vocabulary of that era.
The movie focuses on a very small group of actors, and all did a fantastic job. Especially the child actors who portrayed the twin siblings managed to surprise me with their great performances. Although the movie focuses a little bit more on Thomasin, Caleb, and their father, I thought that all characters had a depth to them that made them feel extremely real.
This is Anya Taylor-Joy’s second role in a feature film and she was fantastic as the lead actress. Thomasin is the eldest daughter of five children and undergoing puberty, her mother is distrustful of her and her growing body is making her oldest brother somewhat uncomfortable, but other than that her family is not concerned about her. That is until mysterious things start happening and she needs to face the full force of her family’s fears and hatred. Anya Taylor-Joy does a perfect job at showing the audience what it meant to be a young woman in those male-dominated times.
Ralph Ineson plays Thomasin’s father and Katherine's husband William, who goes through some troubles himself. William is a devout Christian and was banished from a settlement for being too extreme in his beliefs. Since then he started building his own little settlement together with his family, but the crops won’t grow properly and the land seems dead, nevertheless, William won’t confront what is happening right before his eyes, instead praying and trying to convince his wife that it is God who is testing them.
Kate Dickie gave another great performance. Her character Kathryn is William’s wife and the children’s mother, who is stricken with grief once something bad happens to the family. She also seems to be extremely jealous of Thomasin, who is becoming a woman herself. Harvey Scrimshaw plays the oldest son of the family, Caleb, and he was great! Caleb is the exact opposite of Thomasin and gets treated that way as well.
The stunning cinematography includes beautiful looking panoramic scenes and slow panning camera movements that capture every little detail. The use of hyper-mannered cinematography manages to apprehend the audience's attention and draws them into a fabulous world that looks more like a painting on a canvas than a period-piece horror drama. The colour scheme in this movie is very grey and bleak, which some might think is off-putting, but that colour palette simply reflects the depressive episodes and the psychological torture this family is endearing.
Mark Korven composed this fantastic score and proved that a horror movie’s music is just as important in building tension, as is the story. The soundtrack wasn’t melodic but sounded rather infernal, which drove the audience that was in the theatre I was in, to the verge of their seats.
Verdict: The Witch is definitely not your typical horror film; it has a well-plotted story that puts a Christian family of the 1630s, living in the middle of no-man's-land, in an uncomfortable situation. It also makes use of psychological unnerving tactics to create a feeling of unease in the audience, and the cinematography and fantastic acting make it look and sound as if we were actually seeing a family from the 17th century, trying to survive in the wilderness of New England. Eggers’ directorial debut is a brilliantly scripted and shot horror film that keeps winding up the tension until the last scene and comes as close to being perfect as it can get. Therefore, I will give The Witch a 10 out of 10.
Have you seen this horror folktale yet? What did you think of it? Leave a comment below with your opinion. Thank you very much for reading and as always my review, please share it!